South Asian people and heart disease: an assessment of the importance of socioeconomic position

Ethn Dis. 2001 Autumn;11(3):401-11.


Objectives: Higher rates of mortality from ischemic heart disease among South Asian people are well established and appear to be unrelated to socioeconomic position. However, traditional indicators of socioeconomic position may be inadequate when making comparisons across ethnic groups. This study investigates these issues in a British morbidity survey.

Methods: The Fourth National Survey was a British cross-sectional study conducted from 1993 to 1994. The study used a national representative community sample, consisting of 2867 white respondents, 2001 Indian respondents, and 1776 Pakistani and Bangladeshi respondents. Data on occupational class and standard of living were used to examine the contribution of socioeconomic factors to differences in rates of reported severe chest pain and diagnosed heart disease.

Results: White and Indian respondents had similar rates of reported indicators of heart disease, while Pakistani and Bangladeshi respondents had rates that were considerably higher. There was a clear socioeconomic gradient in reported heart disease for each ethnic group, with those who were poorer having higher rates. Controlling for occupational class made little difference to the greater risk of heart disease found in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi group; however, controlling for a more sensitive indicator of socioeconomic position-standard of living-greatly reduced their disproportionate risk.

Discussion: The findings suggest that South Asian people do not share a uniformly greater risk of heart disease. The more economically advantaged South Asian group, Indians, had rates that are similar to those found among white people, while the poorest groups, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, had rates that are considerably higher. Socioeconomic position predicted risk in each ethnic group and made a key contribution to the higher risk found for Pakistani and Bangladeshi individuals. Other studies may have failed to identify the important contribution of socioeconomic position because the indicators used were too crude.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Asia, Southeastern / ethnology
  • Coronary Disease / epidemiology*
  • Coronary Disease / ethnology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Odds Ratio
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Class*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology